From Göta Canal to Göteborg
10 August 2017 | Göteborg
Barbara/warm, sunny and windy
When we first arrived at Motala, the only tie-up available was along the rock quay at the south side of the marina (Gästhamn). On the plus side, there was a children's playground right there; on the negative side, it was a LONG WALK to the Gästhamn services (showers, toilets, laundry, various restaurants).
Cori decided it was an evening for laundry, and she hiked over to the laundry room carrying laundry from all four of us (!) and getting it all into the dryers before midnight. Early the next morning I did the hike to finish the laundry off, and found it to be still quite wet. These European dryers: quite high-tech I guess ("Ekologisk") but they are not vented to the outside. Since the building's fan system was out of order, the laundry room was a real sauna! I am gradually learning about the needs of these machines: in addition to the usual lint filter, there is a condenser and a tank, all three of which have to be emptied after each load. When I first arrived that morning, there was over a quart of water in the tank, all of which suggests that maybe these washers aren't very good with their spin cycle???? Then there is the dryer dial, with various choices in Swedish, including such things as Skjortor 15 and Supersnabb 40. I did my best with my "Google Translate" app, but it doesn't include words like these.
Later that morning, as some of the boats in the Gästhamn moved on, space opened up for us, and we moved the boat to the north side of the harbor. This put Finn in close proximity to a German boat (Fräulein Smilla) with children aboard. The kids were rowing around the harbor in their dinghy, and Finn was quick to join them. They rowed across the channel to where the playground equipment was, spent some time there, and rowed back and forth several time. Finally one of the Canal employees came over and told them they were endangering themselves and others with the Canal traffic going through the area, and needed to quit their dinghy play. They moved ashore, deployed little nets to catch small fish, and explored the area.
This was "crayfish week" in Motala, and Cori told us about the wild crayfish week parties she had seen in Stockholm when she was a student there. Partying like that was not our choice, but we did buy some crayfish at the local market and had a nice dinner. The evening was topped off with a viewing of Wall-E, an animated movie with very little language, so equally entertaining for Finn (who, at age 6, has not much English yet).
The next morning we headed west across Lake Vättern to Karlsborg. Lake Vättern is the first of two big central-Sweden lakes. Motala to Karlsborg is a short-distance passage (17 nautical miles), unlike the Lake Vänern passage, 64 nautical miles (an all-day trip). We arrived in Karlsborg in the early afternoon, and were able to get a side-tie berth. Later that day, Fräulein Smilla arrived and Finn was able to have another play session with the German kids. We invited the family over for a potluck dinner that evening. Cori went to the store with my ingredient list for enchiladas, and we were able to put together a nice dinner, with the table folded down to banquet mode. Lots of good conversation and a fun time for the kids.
The refrigerator/freezer has been getting crankier and crankier, with the necessity for Craig to do a lot of mechanical and electrical tweaking to make it continue on. We knew that some replacement parts had arrived in Göteborg, so we decided that I would take the train there the next day while Craig & Cori took the boat to the next stop beyond. That decision made it necessary that both stops be convenient to a bus or train line, making a one-day round trip to Göteborg relatively easy. We picked Vassbacken for the first stop after Karlsborg, which (according to Google maps) appeared to have an early morning bus connection to the train in Töreboda on the main north-south line.
On the way to Vassbacken, we passed through the highest altitude lock of the Canal at Forsvik. Forsvik was the last lock we would pass through which would take us up in elevation. After that it would be all downhill. Cori had walked ahead to have a look at the lock. She came back and warned us that the walls of the lock were not smooth stone like all previous locks. Instead, the walls were native stone, with sharp protruberances--potentially very damaging to the boat if we didn't have all the fenders positioned correctly. This lock had been blasted through with dynamite, whereas (apparently) all the previous locks had simply been dug down with picks and shovels and then lined with granite blocks.
We made it through the Forsvik lock satisfactorily, and there followed a narrow section of the canal through an alpine wilderness. This could have been a stream in the Cascades, with beautiful forests all around, an occasional patch of blooming heather, birch trees and an occasional hawk. Every so often there was a wide spot designated for boats coming in opposite directions to pass each other.
Before long we entered Lake Viken, which reminded us both of Echo Lake in the Sierras. The difference was that the channel through the lake was often bordered by wide rock walls - a former tow path for horses to take barges through the lake. We were both really taken by the beauty in this spot. There have been many beautiful stretches in the Göta Canal, but this one really tops them all. If we were ever tempted to have a summer house in Sweden, this might be where we'd look.
After Lake Viken, we went through our first "down" lock. The experience is amazingly different. On the way up, you have to work hard to hold the boat against the cascades of water coming at the boat. On the way down, the water flows out the bottom of the lock and it's not difficult to hold the boat in position, letting the line out a little at a time as the water goes down. At least that first down lock wasn't difficult...
We stopped for the night at Vassbacken as planned. Finn was thrilled when the little dog, Tuffay, showed up on his boat (actually Lennart & Linnea's boat, but who counts the adults when you're a little kid...?) Then a bit later, Fräulein Smilla with Finn's German-speaking friends arrived and Finn's joy was complete. That evening we joined up with a group of people trapping crayfish in the canal. They were having a good success and planned a big feast for the next night. They very kindly gave us a few cooked crayfish the next morning, which we enjoyed very much that evening. (See photo of Finn with those crayfish at the top of this post -- Thanks to Cornelia Kosyna for letting me use this image).
I had discovered with some dismay that Google Maps hadn't distinguished between Sunday and weekdays. The bus I thought I was going to catch to Töreboda didn't actually come on Sundays. We scrambled around and found a fellow who was willing to drive me there in the morning, and I successfully caught the train to Göteborg. Tina and daughter Emily were waiting for me with all the boat parts, and we had a nice lunch together at the botanical garden near the train station. It was nice catching up with the Olsson family's move back to Sweden from Saudi Arabia. Such an interesting life they lead! Tina helped me negotiate the Swedish Railway's customer service system and get refunds for the three extra tickets I had managed to purchase in error when the boat computer (and then the phone app) had choked the previous night.
I returned north by train, arriving in Lyrestad, as planned, at about 5 pm. Sequoia had just pulled in there. Craig and Cori had some horrifying stories about what had transpired since leaving Vassbacken that morning. The winds were quite strong and gusty, and with only two able-bodied adults aboard, they were unable to control the boat as it entered one of the locks, intending to tie up to the port wall. Despite their efforts, and the efforts of several people ashore, the boat blew across the lock and slammed into the rock wall on the starboard side. All the fenders were deployed on the port side, so our starboard hull now has more battle scars than it did before. I'm quite glad I was not there to witness these events, although perhaps I could have made a difference? More hands? Not surprisingly, Craig and Cori were exhausted and after our dinner of crayfish, we all went off to bed.
Cori and Finn had planned to finish their time with us the next day at Lyrestad, taking the same train south to Göteborg that I had taken north. But after consideration of the day's difficulties and the forecast for more strong winds, Cori decided to stay with us to the end of the canal at Sjötorp. We were very grateful that she had the flexibility to change their trip and help us out for that last bit. Cori is, without a doubt, far stronger and more flexible than I am, and we have been very grateful for her help.
As we continued west from Lyrestad, the day was windy, but not as bad as the previous day. One of the lessons learned is that locks situated in valleys or forests are generally out of the wind, but locks in flat agricultural areas can have strong side winds affecting the handling of boats in locks. It appeared that most of the locks that day would be protected by forests. (During this trip we have made a lot of use of Google Earth, or satellite view, as well as Google images, to get a sense of what a place looks like before we get there. Now we were using it to scope out the forests and fields adjacent to locks.) We navigated several locks successfully, but we also had to wait about an hour for traffic coming the other way. It was a good chance to wander along the tow path, notice the wildflowers and ripening berries, and see a few charming Swedish summer homes, as well as watch some other poor fools navigate the locks.
We arrived at Sjötorp without incident, had a nice lunch together, and then saw Cori and Finn off on the bus for a long journey home to Prague.
Craig and I decided to continue on out of the Göta canal and into Lake Vänern, finding an anchorage for the night. Thus we could get an early start on the 64 miles across the lake to the entrance of the Trollhätte Canal. The last lock was very windy, so I got a taste of Craig and Cori's experiences of the previous day. But we made it, without damage and headed to the island of Torsö, where we were able to find an anchorage for the night.
As much as I have loved the passage through the Göta canal, I felt a real sense of liberation to be in open water again. I have often said that the scariest part of sailing is the docking. In terms of boat maneuvering, we had just completed 58 locks, and each involved at least one docking. So in retrospect, it's no surprise to find that open water was liberating.
There is a group of islands in Lake Vänern, just a few miles from Sjötorp. We found an anchorage there and spent a quiet evening doing boat chores, reading and just enjoying the solitude. The next day we crossed Lake Vänern and entered the Trollhätte Canal. We had made good time crossing the lake, so we began the journey down the canal, passing through one lock and then continuing to the city of Trollhätten, where we found a tie-up for the night. This canal is quite different from the Göta Canal - for one thing, there is still commercial cargo traffic in the Trollhätte Canal, not just pleasure boats and passenger tours as in the Göta Canal. So the locks are bigger and the canal is wider. At the City of Trollhätten, they have preserved sections of predecessor canals - the original locks were built in 1800, there were 1830-ish locks that are much like the Göta Canal's locks, and there are, of course, the most modern 1918 locks.
The next morning we prepared to lock through the remaining big locks of the Trollhätte Canal. The locks open for pleasure boats at 9 am, but they insisted on waiting until about 9:40 so that three other sailboats could catch up and go through the lock with us. The rain started at 9 am on the dot, and continued unrelenting for the next four hours. I will tell you that when you are handling sopping wet lines through four lockages, the best foul weather gear in the world will not keep the water from running down your sleeves (as you reach up to grab a line) and then across the back of your neck. We should have been wearing wet suits!
The five sailboats were together all day, jockeying for position in the locks, helping each other out with tie-up difficulties, and waiting for bridges together. With all the delays, we didn't get into our slip in Göteborg until about 8 pm. There was 15 knots of wind, so we experienced considerable difficulty getting Sequoia secured in her pole berth. (Have I mentioned that I HATE pole berths?)
But here we are, in a very friendly place. The third boat this summer we've seen with an American flag is across the dock from us (a Swedish/American dual citizen who lives here but chooses to fly his American flag). We've had interesting conversations with him about politics, boats and cruising. A number of other people have come by with friendly greetings.
Today begins repair work on a few equipment problems as well as the planning and preparations to put the boat up on the hard for the winter. In between time we hope to find a few hours to see Göteborg and our former exchange student, Henrik who lives near here with his family.
03 August 2017 | Motala, Sweden
Barbara/cloudy but warm
Wow, I’ve let 10 days go by since our last blog post, and so much has happened. We are now about half way across Sweden (traveling east to west), using the Göta Canal and the network of central Sweden lakes. Last time I wrote, we were entering the Stockholm archipelago – such a distance and such a change of scenery from then to now!
Our first stop in the archipelago was Stämmarsund, a small harbor with space for perhaps three boats. By the evening, there were 7 or 8 boats – 4 or 5 of them were rafted together, like the petals of a daisy around the end of the dock. Right next to the public dock was the ferry dock. We watched the ferry come and go at least twice during that afternoon and evening. The passengers stand on the concrete quay, rotate a sign to indicate they want to board, and the ferry noses right up to the quay, stopping no more than 30 seconds for the passengers to board through an opening in the bow of the boat.
A fellow from one of the other boats told Craig that the harbormaster was up in the yellow house, where there is also a restaurant. Fern and I decided to go up, pay for moorage, and find out about the restaurant. It turned out we missed the part of the description where the fellow had pointed the direction of “the yellow house”. So yellow is one of the favorite Swedish colors for summer houses (second only to red). We could see one yellow house from the dock, so we headed to it. The path was somewhat overgrown (I was thinking this is unlikely for a restaurant) but we headed to the front door, which was standing open. A dog started barking at us, and the dog awoke the woman who was asleep in the living room. Needless to say, this was not the harbormaster. However, she pointed south toward what she said was “the yellow house.”
It turns out of course that there were three yellow houses in a row, and the harbormaster/restaurant was in the third one. Fortunately Fern and I decided to keep walking until we saw the restaurant sign.
That evening we all headed up to the restaurant for dinner. It was a simple menu, but of course at breathtakingly high prices. We arrived there at about the same time as a party of about 30 (family reunion?) Fortunately it turned out they had pre-ordered so there wasn’t the crush on the kitchen we had feared.
The next day we decided to head for Sandhamn which was a good location for Mark and Fern to catch a ferry back to Stockholm to continue with the land portion of their European trip. The book said that there are 350 guest berths at Sandhamn, so it seemed like we ought to be able to find space. Of course it turned out that the reason there are 350 berths is because there is that much demand. We arrived at midday, and there were about 8 boats circling around the narrow approach channel. There was a young man in a gästhamn dinghy, attempting to find slips for all the boats. In the wind it was a lot of work to avoid the other boats. The young man, clearly quite desperate, finally assigned us a slip. As we’ve experienced in the past, there is an expectation that every sailboat our size will have bow thrusters. We do not. Therefore, getting to the assigned slip was an impossibility. We all looked at each other and agreed to go on and find another island with a ferry connection to the mainland.
We looked at charts, guides and the ferry schedule, and settled on the island of Namdö where there were several good anchoring possibilities, plus a good ferry connection. There was lots of traffic through the islands, but only a few boats anchored at Namdö. We passed by the ferry landing to make sure it would be possible to land Mark and Fern there (it would be), and then found a nice anchorage nearby. We settled in, had a nice dinner on the boat and watched what would be Mark & Fern’s last session with one of the “Jeeves and Wooster” episodes we’ve been watching.
The next morning we were able to dock at Namdöböte at a ferry landing much like the one we had seen at Stämmarsund. Mark and Fern reported to us later that morning that they had successfully caught the ferry and were heading toward the land-based attractions they had lined up for the rest of their Baltic trip.
We headed toward Nynäshamn (we had stopped there on the way north) and once again enjoyed the smoked salmon dinner at one of their shoreside restaurants. From there it was on to Oxelösund, one day away from the entrance to the Göta canal. Oxelösund is a town that is quite industrialized, without some of the historical sites and tourist attractions that draw the crowds in other places. So the marina tries extra hard, with high quality facilities (best laundry we’ve seen so far) and some services not offered elsewhere (bikes to borrow for free and a free bus to the center of town). All at a lower price than most other marinas. We had heard about the nice Oxelösund facilities from another boater in Nynäshamn, so obviously word of their low prices and nice facilities is spreading.
Cori Kosyna and her 6 year old son Finn came to us by train and bus in Oxelösund. They would spend the next 12 days with us, including much of the transit of the Göta canal. We pushed off the next morning, and were at Mem, entrance to the canal, by midday. After registering and receiving our tags, stickers and access cards, we entered the first lock. Cori and Finn have been through the Göta canal before, so they were able to offer good advice about how to do it. We’ve been learning gradually; we’ve now done 37 locks and are getting a bit better at it.
The first section of the canal, from Mem to Söderköping included only three locks over the space of three miles. The lock tenders are enthusiastic young people, all in yellow shirts, dark blue shorts and life vests, shoulder radios and carrying a bright orange control for their particular lock. Many are experienced and can offer good advice to newbie lock users like us. Others are learning on the job.
Söderköping is a delightful town up against a cliff. The canal runs along the base of the cliff, and the town lies to the south. There are charming old streets and squares and a medieval church with a separate wooden bell tower standing alongside. We found a restaurant in the main square that was charming and made delicious food. After he ate, Finn ran laps around the square. I guess he doesn’t get enough exercise on the boat! After dinner we found an old fashioned Swedish phone booth (no longer equipped with any phone). Craig and Finn pantomimed phone calls in the booth (see photo accompanying this blog post).
The canal is seemingly the main attraction for the thousands of tourists who come by bus and car to the town. At first we tied up at one end of town where the only tourist traffic was the walkers who wanted to hike a section of the canal’s tow path. But later we moved to a better berth nearer the center of town, and those thousands of tourists walked right past our boat. At least a hundred of them asked if we had sailed all the way from America. (Perhaps I exaggerate, but not by much.)
We hiked up the cliff on the south side of Söderköping – 305 steps up to the viewpoint, which did indeed offer a spectacular view. We considered standing in line for an ice cream cone at the famous stand (the attendant at the gas dock in Oxelösund had told us we must do that – “best thing in Söderköping”), and obviously hundreds of tourists had heard similar advice because the line was more than a block long. The owner of one of the restaurants in town came around to each boat to talk up the tapas, gins and tonics at his restaurant. The owner of another restaurant – who turned out to be an American who had last operated a restaurant in Everett, Washington – came around to find out about the American boat (we still have seen only two other boats with an American flag). His visit was very timely, because we had just discovered that our refrigerator/freezer had seemingly bit the dust, and he was able to offer us advice about refrigeration technicians in the area, as well as a good helping of ice out of his restaurant’s ice machine.
Cori, Finn and I set out for the grocery store to see if anyone was selling block ice (they weren’t) or even several bags of cube ice (which we did find). By the next morning, Craig was able to determine that the source of the problem was a faulty relay, and eventually he was able to devise a work-around that involves removing or replacing the fuse several times a day and occasionally hitting the control box. (Craig’s a very clever engineer. I don’t ask, I just do. It seems to work.) We now have some replacement relays coming, thanks to Chip Gardes who found them on Craig’s electronics bench at home and is mailing them to us, c/o Henrik & Tina Olsson, whom we we will be visiting in Göteborg about a week from now. (Long supply pipeline!) (Henrik and Tina are also serving as our maildrop for some rigging parts from England, a shower repair kit from the US – via our son, Ian and former exchange student Jürg Buschor – and more relays from Poland.) (Thanks to everyone assisting our supply pipeline!)
Nick, the American restaurant owner in Söderköping who helped us with the ice, warned that there would be loud reggae music from his canal-front restaurant that night. He said that usually, on reggae nights, people are 10 or 20 deep in a circle around the restaurant, which would likely put them all the way back across the boardwalk to our boat. Fortunately there weren’t quite as many listeners as he had predicted, and things did quiet down by 11 pm. (The reggae musicians were quite good, by the way.)
We continued along the canal, transiting locks and bridges. We began to see dates carved into the stone lip of the lock – at first we saw 1826, then as we traveled westward the dates were earlier and earlier. Yesterday we saw 1818. (We have learned that the canal was constructed from west to east, hence the earlier dates on the western side.) Somehow I find these date stones to be so impressive – to think that something constructed 200 years ago, a fairly sophisticated infrastructure, is still in use, by us, today.
There are many bridges along the route. Some are major roads, and others are little-used byways. When we approach each bridge, there is a traffic light telling us whether to stop (blinking red; they don’t see us yet) or slow way down (blinking red and white – they have seen us but are not ready for us) or go (green). They watch the bridges through cameras and we only rarely see an actual bridge tender. But nearly every bridge, and nearly every lock has a lock tender or bridge tender’s house, usually well-maintained and charming, with the name of the lock or bridge prominently displayed on the house. We asked one of the lock tenders whether she got to live in the house. Her response: “I wish!”
The day we left Söderköping, one of the lock tenders told us there was a nice place to pull over for lunch, just after a bridge up the way called Snöfvelstorp (I can’t say that name without laughing!) We decided to do that, but before we got to the wall, we were aground. The keel was sunk deep into the muddy bottom. We looked over at the bridge tender’s booth, and amazingly enough there was movement in there. Cori said the guy was legs in the air, standing on his head or doing yoga poses perhaps. Once we saw the top part of him we started waving. He came over and offered his sympathy. He radioed back along the path we had come and found a boat willing to give us a tow. We decided to have lunch anyway, 4 feet away from the wall, stuck in the mud. After lunch, Craig made a new effort to break us loose with the motor at full throttle, and was finally successful. The boat willing to tow us was just coming into sight and we struck up a friendship with those folks after that.
As we continued up the canal, subsequent lock tenders knew us as the American boat that had gone aground at Snöfvelstorp. We did learn that this section of the canal is suffering from low water this year. One lock tender told us that in the six weeks she had been on the job she had experienced only 20 minutes of rain. They were no longer allowing the big passenger tour boats to transit that portion of the canal. We didn’t see any of the tour boats, in fact, until we got to Borensburg, where two of them were docked and taking on passengers. They are impressively huge, with at least three decks. It was hard for us to imagine how they could get through the locks, although we have now seen that they do.
The most famous flight of locks on the Göta canal is the set of 7 consecutive locks called Bergs Slussen. The set of locks is approached from Lake Roxen and can be seen from a long distance away, stepping up the hill. It is here that we found about the true athletic nature of transiting locks. They assign boats to ascend together based on how they will best fit into a lock. Our particular group consisted of Sequoia, a smaller sailboat and a small Gota canal charter boat. The charter boat was being rented by a Norwegian family including two small children who had become good friends of Finn’s. They did not share a common language but they had fun dipping nets for fish in the canal and running up and down the docks laughing hilariously.
The smaller sailboat was skippered by a man with limited experience and his completely inexperienced partner. I cannot catalog for you all the mistakes they made, although some of them did get corrected as we worked our way up the flight of locks. The challenge in the locks is that water from the upper lock gate comes furiously at the boat from several directions. The boats are jostled around and are constantly in danger of banging into each other and into the walls of the lock. Each boat is supposed to have lines run to rings on the lock edge to control the boat’s movement. Sometimes the boat is too heavy to control manually and winches must be used. (We always use winches on Sequoia’s lock lines, but Sequoia is one of the larger and heavier boats on the canal). The lock master and the skipper of a boat don’t necessarily agree as to how a boat should be handled. The skipper of one boat certainly does not agree with how the boat next to him is being handled. The inexperienced skipper in the small sailboat next to us certainly did not agree with how we were handling our boat, and he didn’t hesitate to let us know.
So in addition to the physical work of handling the lines to control the boat’s motion, there is the emotional work of dealing with the people on the adjacent boats. When you go through a flight of seven locks, you repeat the same experience seven times. The boats leave each lock and enter the next one in exactly the same order, with none of the previous lock’s problems solved. We arrived at the top of the seven locks absolutely wrung out. Then our fender board got caught in a lock gate, snapped off, and we left it floating in the lock. Fortunately, those very nice Norwegian folk in the Göta Canal charter boat were able to capture the wounded fender board and give it back to us.
We found a berth in the basin at the top of the locks and spent the rest of the day unwinding. We even decided to get a late start in the morning, giving Craig a chance to repair the fender board so we could continue to use it to protect our boat from the stone walls of the locks.
Well the late start was a mistake! The basin at the top of the Bergs Slussar turned out to be home base for at least two passenger tour boats. The tour boats have some sort of god-like priority over any other boat. They make a reservation for a particular time slot in a lock (something we can’t do), and everybody get out of their way! We got in line for the next two double locks (four locks total) at 11 am, and we didn’t move into the first lock until at least 2 pm. After getting out of the fourth lock they told us we’d have to wait at a dock alongside the canal because the fifth lock (a mile ahead) had priority passenger boats coming and going. We were to move to the next dock as soon as it become available when the boats at that dock finally moved into the lock. It was an opportunity for all of us to go swimming and cool down from the heat of the day.
By the time we got out of the next lock, it was 5:15 pm. The lock tender told us that there was an opening bridge at Ljung 45 minutes ahead. They close the whole system down at 6 pm, so we had to find a place to tie up for the night before the Ljung bridge. The one designated marina we passed had no space, and then there were miles and miles of beautiful canal with nowhere to tie up. We finally pulled in to a dock shortly before the Ljung bridge and spent the night there. Whew. Another exhausting day: 5 locks, 7 hours, and only four miles. We could have walked it much faster!
We were accompanied through that day by a Swedish boat named Vera-Linnea. Aboard that boat was a small dog named Tuffay (I’m sure that’s NOT the spelling). The owners, Lennart and Linnea, explained that Tuffay means “tough guy” in Swedish. Finn became best friends with Tuffay, running him all around the locks on a leash, throwing things for him to retrieve and cuddling or petting him. Finn was quite distraught each time Tuffay’s boat appeared to go off in a different direction or at a different time. But we always ended up together, cooperating pretty well on our lock-throughs (the two boats are big enough that there is no room for a third boat in the lock).
Vera-Linnea also tied up at the dock before the Ljung bridge, and Finn was able to get in some good dog time. The dock apparently belonged to a “Musiehut” or big museum, which may have housed nautical stuff or farm equipment – hard to tell. Signs proclaimed “free entrance” and “cafe” but everything was closed when we were there. That evening was a gorgeous sunset – a peaceful ending to our short-distance day.
We are now in Motala, and have decreed for ourselves a day of rest. We’ll see what there is to see here, stock the refrigerator (still limping along), and get our communications with the outside world (including this blog post) done.
With apologies for this extra-long blog post, we wish you the best, and hope your summer is as fun and interesting as ours!
23 July 2017 | Stämmarsund, Sweden
Barbara/warm and sunny
This morning we sailed back from the Åland Islands toward the Stockholm archipelago in Sweden. We had a great time in Åland, accompanied by Mark Downing and Fern Elledge, friends from Portland who came over for this part of our trip.
Five days ago, we left Stockholm, dodging cruise ships, ferries and hot-doggers to wind our way through the intricate channels that weave out from Stockholm for miles before reaching the Baltic Sea. Mark was looking for castles, so we enjoyed the views of Vaxholm Castle midway through our trip. Shortly after that the interesting sight was several granite islands with skeletons of dead trees and a very large colony of big black birds. We wondered what may have killed the trees and what kind of bird was inhabiting them, but we have no answers as yet.
We were headed for an anchorage Craig had picked out of one of the cruising guides for the Stockholm archipelago. Unfortunately about 15 other boats were headed for the same place. We got ourselves satisfactorily anchored, but someone else came in and anchored too close, and Craig wasn’t happy with that, so we pulled the anchor up and moved 50 feet to another location. It was a warm sunny afternoon, and we spent a few hours in individual pursuits: reading, napping, painting (Mark) and playing cello (me). At about 5:00 in the afternoon, Fern noticed that we were getting closer to the rocks and we decided the anchor was dragging. Unfortunately, before we could do anything about it, we were solidly aground on an underwater rock. A Dutch boater yelled, unhelpfully, “There’s a rock over there...” (He apparently didn’t realize we were already aground). We looked around for another boater with a dinghy who might be able to help us kedge out a second anchor. We did find a Swedish fellow, interrupting his dinner prep, and he came right over in his dinghy. He and Mark carried our big Fortress anchor out about 200 feet and dropped it into the water. He managed to get Mark back to Sequoia just as his timer went off, signaling his boiling pasta was now ready.
Using the windlass, we pulled on the Fortress anchor’s line and managed to get the boat turned 90 degrees, but that was it. We weren’t moving any further. And in the Baltic Sea there is no tide, so we can’t expect the water to come in and lift us off. We finally concluded we needed some professional help, and another boater provided us with a phone number for the Sea Rescue service. While we were waiting for them to come, Craig decided to pull in our main anchor (the one that had originally dragged). Amazingly, doing that somehow pulled us off the rock. We talked to Sea Rescue again and told them we didn’t need their help after all. We motored carefully out of the crowded anchorage and decided to find a dock to tie up for the night.
A mile or so further on, we found the Hogmarsö guest harbor, described in the cruising guide as having all the necessary facilities. It was dusk when we got there, so we just tied up, got our dinner, and went to bed, figuring we’d check in and pay for the moorage in the morning. The dock had the smallest mooring rings we’d ever seen, and you would seriously doubt your safety if the wind blew very hard. No electricity on the docks, although obviously there once had been electricity – you could see the old wires and junction boxes dangling down in the water. Probably the strangest thing about the harbor was the collection of weird boats tied up there. Number one in that collection was a giant metal Chinese-style dragon at the bow of a three-story building mounted on a big barge, and labeled as some sort of Asian restaurant. It was obvious from its state of disrepair that it was not an operating business, but I must say, arriving at the harbor with the dragon looming out of the dusk was somewhat bizarre.
The next morning I found a fellow ashore who explained that this was a boatyard, primarily repairing old working boats, although he himself was a sail rigger who used the space. He said the owner of the shipyard (if we had questions) was a man named Hasse. (Our sailmaker at home is Carol Hasse of Port Townsend sails – wondering if that’s a common last name, or perhaps they’re related?) The harbor has no guest facilities except for the old docks, and there is no charge for tying up. They were hoping we would patronize their restaurant, little cafe and grocery store. None of those were open yet, and we were anxious to get on our way to Åland.
We had about 8 miles more to go through the islands before we reached the Baltic Sea proper, then about 40 miles across the Gulf of Bothnia to reach Mariehamn, the capital of Åland. (Åland is a semi-autonomous part of Finland, but most of the people in this group of islands speak Swedish.) There was a brisk wind and we had a very nice sail all the way into the Mariehamn harbor. A young man in the guest harbor dinghy came out to greet us, and told us the only spot available was an upwind space at the north end of the harbor. The mooring method here is getting a line strung through a buoy on the way into the space and then slowing down enough to not crash into the dock. Even worse, each buoy in this marina was shared by 2 or 3 boats. In the strong winds, given our inexperience with this mooring method, we elected to find an anchorage instead.
The young man in the dinghy directed us to the nearest good anchorage, and we were able to settle successfully there. The anchorage was just across from the monstrous landing area for ferries and cruise ships. These ferries, which are as big as a cruise ship, use the space between the anchorage and the dock as a turning basin. Several times during the evening and night we heard the rumble of big engines, relatively close by, and we looked out the ports to see the giant ferries spinning half a circle.
The next morning the winds were gone, and we easily moved to the marina. Many boats leave marinas early in the morning, and in the crowded days of the high season, that’s the best time to come in. We found a space next to a Finnish-flagged boat. The owner came over to catch our lines, and afterwards told us that he and his family were just in the process of moving back to Finland after three years in Salt Lake City. They were living on their boat while waiting for the shipping container with all their possessions to arrive. While living in the states, they had come back to Finland every summer to go sailing, but otherwise enjoyed their time in the States very much.
As always, we met many interesting people on the docks. A bright red boat was named Red Roo, and turned out to be Australian. The couple had traveled to France, bought the boat there, and were sailing it home over a period of several years. This is their year to be in the Baltic.
The Mariehamn marina is called ÅSS (pronounced “Oss”) which which stands for Åland Sailing Club. Their club is very active, with several classes of dinghy racing every day and big parties on weekends. The facilities are very nice (including saunas adjacent to the shower rooms). Quite obviously the income from the summer boating visitors helps fund their operations.
Mariehamn the town is quite different from other Scandinavian cities we have visited. The streets are wide and tree-lined, calling to mind some Midwest American cities. Many of the houses appear to be 100 to 150 years old, with stone foundations. The favored colors seem to be red, yellow or grey. We walked toward the grocery store, getting waylaid by a cafe in a historic church’s community hall. The shy but charming young man tending the tables was primarily serving Fika, with excellent coffee and sumptuous pastries, but we were also able to get sandwiches and call it lunch. The hall itself was interesting, heavily protected from winter weather with a radiator under each window, thick walls and old fashioned double-paned windows (no vacuum between the panes, simply two separate windows separated by about 3 inches of air).
We rented a car that afternoon, and headed to the northwest corner of the island, a town called Eckerö. The Lonely Planet advised that a particular restaurant there, overlooking a harbor, was a good bet. It turned out that the harbor was jam-packed with visiting yachts, and they were all in the restaurant. There was an estimated 1½ hour wait for seating. We walked around the interesting marina, which consisted of a boardwalk pinned to the glaciated granite rocks of the shoreline, with an endless row of boats tied to stern buoys, nosed up to the boardwalk. In appearance the inlet was more like a mountain lake, with short-needled pines and huckleberry-type shrubs above the rocks.
We could see another restaurant in the distance, across the water, so we drove up there and found the “Bistro” of what was called a “Resort and Conference Center”, but appeared to actually be an elegant campground. It had the feel of a summer camp, with a white sand beach in front of the Bistro, people swimming with inflatable pool toys and small boats available for patrons’ use. We ordered pizza and salads and enjoyed looking out at the beautiful scenery.
The next morning we packed a lunch and set out for Kastelhamn, Åland’s only castle. Castles are always fun to visit, and there appear to be many different methods and degrees of restoration. This one was nice, in part because it had lots of signs in English, and in part because it clearly described the different periods of the castle’s use and how the structure changed over the centuries. There were guides taking groups around, but none speaking English. We learned about Swedish, Finnish and Russian history, and about witch trials that had taken place there in the early seventeenth century.
After we had our picnic lunch, we toured Jan Karls-gården, an open air museum of historic buildings from around Åland. (See photo at the top of this blog article). There were three windmills (“pole mills”), and the brochure explained that historically every farm had a windmill. There was also a “splash mill” set up to operate a grain grinding operation using just the water from a small creek. We saw farm houses for different levels of wealth, stables, a sauna, a boathouse and a foundry. We learned more about the midsommar pole which we have seen in several places. Typically they are as tall as a civic flagpole, and have a sun, a circle of sailboats sailing around the pole, a puppet figure who flaps his arms, cross beams with colorful crowns of fabric and a network of (now-brown) greenery. All these elements are symbolic of prosperity, fertility, favorable winds, and I’m sure other elements I’ve forgotten already. Apparently the midsommar poles are erected on the eve of the summer solstice and stay in place until just before midsommar the following year.
We returned the rental car, and did our laundry that night and planned to depart yesterday morning. Before our departure I walked to buy a few more groceries, and just above the marina saw the start of an American car show. The Scandinavians generally, and perhaps the Ålanders in particular seem to love American cars from the fifties. All this summer we have seen here and there gigantic tail-finned Cadillacs and other American luxury car brands (especially convertibles) plying the streets, especially on the weekends. There had seemed to be more than a few here in Åland, including an Edsel parked on the street above the marina. For this show, they had 30 or 40 old American cars lined up. You could see them all, plus buy souvenirs in the booths, for 5 euros. I certainly didn’t want to pay for that, but it was interesting looking from afar. Somewhat distressingly, some of the booths were decorated with big Confederate flags. Perhaps they have no idea.
I bypassed the grocery store for the Saturday morning farmers market and picked up a big box of wild blueberries. The young man tending that booth said the berries had been picked the day before in forestland near the Castle we had visited.
We headed for the southernmost anchorage in the Åland archipelago, Rödhamn. We elected to anchor away from the crowded dock, and managed to find a place in a little bay with no other boats. On shore we could see there was a nice sauna and above it a summer house. Toward the end of the day some people arrived in a small boat, tied up to a dock on the other side of the sauna and proceeded to split wood, kindle a fire for the sauna, draw buckets of water out of the bay and set out chairs on the deck. They went up to the summer house for a bit, presumably waiting for the sauna to heat up, and we went below for our own dinner of Mexican/Swedish enchiladas.
This morning we pulled up the anchor at Rödhamn and sailed gently across the Gulf of Bothnia back toward Sweden. It’s been a delightful interlude in our trip, and I’m definitely adding Åland to the list of places I’d like to come back to sometime.
18 July 2017 | Navishamn Marina, Stockholm, Sweden
Barbara/warm, sunny and windy
The time is passing so quickly, and there are many places we wanted to go, but just not enough time to make them happen. We are in Stockholm now, and it's clear that one could spend several weeks here and just begin to scratch the surface. But today we are leaving, heading for the Åland Islands in Finland.
Let me back up a little bit. I last wrote when we were in Västervik, surrounded by reminders that Björn Ulvaeus (ABBA) was a beloved local hero. We left there headed for an island anchorage to be determined. It was a lovely passage through the Swedish southern archipelago. This could be the San Juans or the Canadian Gulf Islands. Great swaths of glaciated granite push up from the water, topped with twisted trees or sometimes whole forests. In the San Juans the red-barked trees are madrona (arbutus); here they are a variety of pine. Most of the boats (whether sail or motor) will nose right up to the granite shore, throw out a stern anchor a short distance, and then tie on to a tree or ring on shore. You climb off the bow right onto the shore, so you don't need a dinghy. There are no tides to speak of here, and this is just the way it is done. But Craig tends to worry about whether the anchor is sufficiently set, and what happens if a wind comes up from the stern and pushes you right onto shore. So I think there's no risk we'll ever do the "nosing up to the shore" thing. We'll anchor out and inflate our dinghy when and if there is a need.
While in Västervik we had managed to acquire a cruising guide to the southern archipelago. This is not the one the sardonic British cruiser/writer had referred to as "the Bible", but it does have excellent chartlets and aerial (drone?) photos of all possible anchorages on sunny days. It is breathtakingly expensive, but having gotten ourselves here, we decided to bite the bullet and buy the guide. All the descriptions, of course are in Swedish. I've downloaded the Google Translate app for Swedish, and in theory you can point your phone's camera at a page of Swedish, and it will show you the page translated into English. But Google Translate certainly hasn't heard of most nautical words, and what tends to come up is a lot of gibberish. (I have found it useful, though for translating labels on packages of food in the grocery store - "Cold smoked salmon" - YES!!)
But I digress - Using the new book, we chose an anchorage named Gubbö kupa. It was very much like many Pacific Northwest anchorages, a horseshoe bay protected from three sides, and room for a lot of boats. We were fortunate there was only one other boat that wanted to anchor. We spent a quiet evening there, enjoyed another beautiful sunset and slept well, before setting off again in the morning for Nynäshamn.
The Finns who had given us some destination advice back in Västervik had been enthusiastic about Nynäshamn. We found it to be a mixed bag. The pleasure boat harbor is right next to the ferry landings. There seem to be three or four monstrous ferries that land there regularly. There are acres of concrete lanes for cars and trucks to wait for transport to Gotland and other destinations. All the people waiting for ferries wander into the area next to the marina, where dozens of small shops are deployed to catch their attention. Plenty of ice cream stands and hamburger spots. Next to the docks is a walkway thronged by sunburned tourists eating cotton candy and towing tired children. But on the plus side we found an excellent "Smokehouse" restaurant featuring some of the best smoked salmon we've had in quite some time. We liked the meal so much that we went next door to their shop and bought a couple of big pieces to put in the refrigerator.
I walked up into town and found a phone store that was finally able to sell us the necessary sim card and top-up voucher to enable us to download podcasts, keep up with the latest news (oh horrors!) and watch Steven Colbert. Not to mention catching up on email or facebook and posting to our blog!
We ended up tied to a very long dock (very far from the showers) which proved to be a good promenade destination for people waiting for ferries. Many people walked by and asked the usual question, "Did you sail all the way here?" I got into conversation with one Finnish fellow who wanted me to know, in no uncertain terms, that he thought Michelle Obama should run for President next time, and that she'd be sure to win. I told him I was pretty sure she didn't want to do that, and that even if she did, it might be a very ugly contest with no certain outcome. He didn't believe me.
From Nynäshamn it was two days to Stockholm. We anchored the first night at a lovely anchorage near Dalarö, where we were all alone but for one sailboat nosed up to one of the shores. Again we watched a peaceful sunset. I can never resist taking photographs. Back home the sunsets come and go pretty quickly, but here they last forever. I run up to take the first picture, and it keeps getting better and better. It's a good thing I'm not wasting film, but only electrons.
As we approached Stockholm, the channels got narrower and more complex (more rocks and other things to avoid) and the traffic got heavier. We began to see more and more small ferries. We passed an old stone fort in the middle of a channel, which was just opposite an island of dead trees covered with thousands of big birds. It felt as though there must be a story involving the fort, the dead trees and the birds. Perhaps an Ingmar Bergman film?
The entry to Stockholm was through a narrow channel called Baggensstaket. The entrance is invisible until you're on top of it. It swings into a narrow, relatively shallow channel lined with sailing clubs and millionaire homes. Big elaborately decorated houses have little matching boat houses. The gardens are gorgeous. The channel passes an extensive park that turns out to be a cemetery. A ferry full of tourists seems to command the entire channel, and we veer off into a wider spot to let him pass. After some time the channel widens out into a lake and then narrows again. The cliffs on either side are higher and the docks have long staircases going up to the elaborate houses. The wealth on display is frankly jaw-dropping.
Finally we exit into the main channel, and there the traffic is thick and requires a lot of attention. We had debated about which marina to enter, and as it turns out we headed into the first of the close-to-downtown marinas, called Navishamn. The harbormaster came out to meet us in his dinghy and then, before getting or giving any information, raced off, saying "follow me." The slip he led us to was impossible to enter without bow-thrusters (which we don't have) and we quickly cut away. There were no other available slips, so we opted for an outside side-tie. Everyone warned us it would be awful. The waves from passing ships, ferries and hot rodders were enormous, so it was a very rocky place to tie up. The boat would slam up against the dock, squeezing up a fountain of water that would splash across the dock and all over the boat. We put up with it for the afternoon, and in the evening things calmed down. The next morning we were able to get into a slip further back towards the shore. It's still pretty rocky, but better than that first afternoon.
Across the big channel here is the sea wall where the giant cruise ships tie up. They are three-at-a-time, each of them carrying thousands of tourists. They stay only a day or less, and the next day are replaced by new ones. We are here on the island of Djurgården, with dozens of museums within walking distance. A tram runs by the gate of the marina and takes us to the downtown of a newer part of the city, and to ferry, bus and train connections to all other parts of Stockholm.
Here in the marina there are more nationalities than we have seen in most other places. Plenty of boats, of course, from Sweden, Finland and Germany, but here we saw our first American boat (other than ourselves). We also saw boats from Poland and Spain, and one flying the Welsh flag. On the hill above the marina (just on the other side of the tram stop) is the very large Italian embassy. We've had many conversations with the folks who stop by and ask whether we sailed all the way here from Oregon. An American woman and her Swedish husband stopped by and offered much helpful advice about where we might find a good boatyard in the Gothenburg area, should we decide to winter the boat over in that area.
Last night a Finnish single-hander ("Uka" --spelled Yka) came in to the dock and Craig helped him with the lines. Uka came over after he had settled, and joined us in the cheese course of our dinner. (We've been collecting different cheeses as we travel, and sometimes we'll start dinner with a taste test of the latest acquisitions.) Uka had lots of good advice to offer about our next destination, the Åland islands. He says the people there speak Swedish, and would rather be part of Sweden, but due to long-standing political reluctance, remain a part of Finland. They've been allowed, though, to have their own semi-autonomous zone, along with a different flag.
The day after we arrived in Stockholm we were joined by friends Mark Downing and Fern Elledge. With them we have explored many interesting sights in Stockholm, including the old city in Gamla Stan, the Vasa museum and the Skansen historical park. We took a small but crowded ferry across the water to Gamla Stan, the very oldest part of the city. There are wonderful narrow alleys, 17th century buildings of an amazing variety, with beautiful and sometimes odd architectural details. Lots of restaurants spill onto the narrow streets with outside seating. Many stores and galleries look tempting, but most were closed. We happened upon a band concert in front of the Nobel museum and spent a delightful few minutes listening. Yesterday we went to the Saluhall, a public market, for supplies. It's delightful, upscale, and full of small trendy restaurants. We bought some take-out and sat in a big church yard, watching the people. Stockholm is a wonderful city, and one could easily spend weeks here. But prices are high and other destinations beckon, so we are headed northeast today to the Finnish islands of Åland.
Best wishes to all!
Craig & Barbara Johnston
Songs, singers and other interesting people in Västervik, Sweden
08 July 2017 | Västervik, Sweden
Barbara/cloudy with sun breaks
We (Craig, Barbara, Chip & Kit) left Oskarshamn on a beautiful, sunny day and headed north through the Swedish archipelago. There are islands everywhere, with every sort of boat nosed up to a rock, spilling its Swedish sunbathers and barbecuers onto the shores. The outer islands are just low mounds of rock; the inner islands have rock outcroppings, but at least a few trees and sometimes substantial forests. Many islands have a summer home or two or many. The passages between the islands are sometimes quite narrow, with just enough room for pleasure boats to squeeze by each other.
Just after passing through one such narrow passageway, we entered the Västervik harbor, carefully picking our way along a tortuous buoy-lined path, and finally arriving at the gästhamn (guest harbor). Despite the presence of a line of buoys 20 meters away from the outer dock, we saw that many larger boats were in fact side-tied to the outer dock and not using the buoys at all. On crowded days the harbormaster certainly wouldn’t like that, because you can fit 3 or 4 buoy-tied boats in the space taken by one side-tied boat. But here, evidently, you were allowed to side-tie for, it turns out, a higher fee. So we did.
(I must diverge for a moment and say, for the benefit of cruisers from back home, that guest moorage fees in Sweden have been very reasonable – on the order of $25 or $30 a night, INCLUDING electricity, water, showers, washers and dryers, and in the case of Västervik, use of the swimming pool. Oops! Craig just told me that today is the first day of “high season” and the price of a night’s side-tie moorage here went up from 250 krona ($29.65) to 304 krona ($36.05))
It turned out that the dock we chose was so new that it didn’t yet have electricity or water. But they were working on it. When we first tied up, there was a worker cleaning up scraps of wire from the dock, and other workers closer to shore were wrestling electrical cables through heavy yellow tubes. They said “maybe tomorrow” we’d have electricity. With all credit to those hard-working guys, we did indeed have electricity the next day. No water, but now we have plenty of that coming out of the sky.
We came to the gästhamn in Västervik despite a dire warning from Martin Edge in his acerbic 2014 Baltic guide (165 Rocks and other stuff to tie your boat to in eastern Sweden and Finland):
"The rip-off 'Promarina' marina in the town centre is to be avoided, as are all the new marinas owned by that company as they try to build an empire and establish a monopoly in a lot of Swedish harbours. It’s double the price and about a tenth as well sheltered."
Well, it turns out that the Promarina operation was so hated that it was boycotted by many boaters, and ultimately failed financially. The marina was recently purchased by a group of investors, including, notably, Björn Alvaeus of the musical group ABBA. They have already invested substantially in the marina’s infrastructure, including the dock we’re on, and they have ambitious plans to substantially increase the number of moorage spaces, and a new building across the way will contain additional boater facilities (and a number of luxury apartments). There are plans to build a grand hotel on the site as well. It will remain to be seen how much moorage prices will be affected by all this.
We first learned about the ABBA connection when we asked a local fellow, passing by, to take a picture of the four of us. He happily did so and then continued down the dock on his walk. A few minutes later he made a U-turn and came back to make sure that we knew that the building on the far side of the harbor was being built by Björn, who, by the way, was this fellow’s classmate in school. After that, we were told of the ABBA connection by numerous other local residents and fellow boat owners. They’re obviously all very proud of their local hero/star. We were invited to a poolside cocktail party in the evening, where “the owners” were showing up to thank their local customers. We did talk to one of the owners, but sad to report, Björn was not there.
The center of Västervik is a good walk from here. I walked over there the first day with Kit and Chip, while they checked out the bus and train transportation to Stockholm, as they would be leaving us the next day. They had good success, finding a bus that would take them to Stockholm in 3 ½ hours. We walked from the train station past a gorgeous brick church (St. Petri Kyrka) with soaring steeples and interesting wind vanes or decorative filigree on top of each spire. From there, to the grocery store and past some very interesting store fronts, restaurants and harbor facilities.
That evening we had a truly delightful dinner in the restaurant that is a part of this marina complex. They were offering a dinner special: paella and a glass of wine for 180 krona (about $21). (That is extremely cheap for dinner out in Sweden). We were served by a Swedish young man, Axel, who is still in high school. He was an absolute charmer, excellent English speaker, saying he was interested in physics and music, among other things. A future renaissance man, perhaps. At the end of the evening he brought his guitar over and sang us a Swedish folk song.
We said good-bye to Chip and Kit the next day, walking over to the train/bus station to see them off. We’d had a very nice visit, seeing wonderful things together and sharing boat duties. The boat, although 44 feet long, is a small space, and it’s a real credit to our guests when we can all get along together so well. We wish them a good rest of their trip (they are headed to Oslo before returning home).
Craig spent the rest of that day fighting the cell phone wars. We had bought a “hot spot” device in England, but it turns out that topping up the megabytes in Sweden is next to impossible, despite representations to the contrary when we bought the little device. “Three” (the mobile phone company) will not allow you to top up the device online unless you have a British credit card with a British billing address. (Which we obviously don’t.) Hmmmph!!! Further efforts to address this problem will take place in Stockholm.
We are the only American boat. We have not seen another American-flagged boat since our arrival in Europe in May. People will wander by and stare at the boat, and if we are around, they want to know “Did you sail it all the way here?” Certainly the number of times we’ve been asked that is approaching, or maybe even more than 100 different times. We’ve been able to get our standard answer shorter and shorter, because retelling the story gets pretty boring to us.
A number of the visitors to the boat have been American expats. Here in Västervik, a man came down from his top-floor apartment onshore to welcome us and talk to some fellow Americans. In Kalmar we had a visit from an American who had been in Sweden 25 years, never had a job here, just invested and sailed his boat around. We also had a visit here in Västervik from a RN/EMT who, when on duty, was required to be no more than 90 seconds from the aid car. (He thought our boat qualified). He had grown up in Southern California, but has been happily in Sweden with his Swedish wife and four boys for many years. He had some great island destination advice for us, and encouraged us to call him if we ever had any difficulties.
We also get plenty of visitors who are Swedish, Danish or Finnish, German or Dutch. Those seem to be the predominant nationalities that are cruising here. We’ve seen perhaps 2 or 3 cruising boats from the UK on this trip, but they are almost as rare as Americans. Last night we met a Finnish couple and invited them aboard for conversation and drinks. They were able to offer some very helpful advice about marinas in Stockholm as well as cruising destinations between here and there. We talked about languages, cultures, politics and many other things.
Today it’s been raining, although the sun is trying to shine through. It’s a day for boat projects before we head out into the islands tomorrow, and spend a few days on anchor or nosed up to a convenient rock. We hope that your summer is as much fun as ours has been so far!
Best wishes to all.
From Rainstorms to Rock Music: Kalmar to Oskarshamn
05 July 2017 | Oskarshamn, Sweden
It seems an eternity since I posted a blog entry, but in truth it’s only been a week. We’ve packed in so many interesting experiences that it seems like many weeks instead. When I last wrote we had just arrived in Kalmar after an exciting sail up from Karlskrona. A rather too exciting docking had left us wondering what damage had been done. We later watched some landings that were just as exciting as ours, and people told us that Kalmar is renowned for its strong and unpredictable winds.
After a good night’s rest we checked out the damage. At one point during that sail from Karlskrona, a piece of elderly shock cord broke, allowing the Monitor self-steering gear to bang from its stowed to its fully deployed position and, we later discovered, knocking the dinghy’s 5-gallon gas tank out of its (we thought) completely secure straps. (The gas tank, we hope, didn’t leak and subsequently washed up on a Swedish shore, where someone can use the fuel rather than us being guilty of an oil spill…) We have one bent metal fitting from our Kalmar docking, which will likely need to be replaced at some point, and our name on the side of the boat will need to be renewed perhaps a bit earlier than expected. We did no damage to anyone else, thank heavens!
Kalmar proved to be a very interesting place, and we ended up staying four days. This was mostly because of bad weather, but also because it was on a direct train line from Copenhagen, by means of which Chip and Kit Gardes could easily arrive a couple of days later.
The first day in Kalmar we visited the Kalmar Slott (castle) which had interesting exhibits of Swedish history, as well as suits of armor, a fully-furnished dining hall, amazing 400-year-old marquetry (pictures made of 17 different types of inlaid wood), royal bedrooms and a secret passage. There were period-dressed young Swedish women, ready to tell us about what we were seeing, including the renaissance uses of herbs and the reasons for the secret passage (for the king to escape his annoying brother, and to use the loo). Somehow we missed the chapel, which Lonely Planet tells us is a highly-sought-after wedding venue for young Swedish brides.
We walked around the old part of the town and saw lots of strawberry vendors, several American shops (Ben & Jerry’s, Subway…) and plenty of nice restaurants that spilled out into sidewalk cafes. An elaborate fountain had bronze panels featuring scenes of mayhem and triumph from Swedish history. Craig frequented the nearby chandlery, looking for various necessary bits and pieces of boat hardware, including a new 6-gallon gas tank to replace the one that mysteriously disappeared between Karlskrona and Kalmar.
Then it turned rainy and windy. We dashed up to the restroom to take showers, and into the adjacent shopping center to shop for food. We got out the sewing machine and made a Sunbrella cover for the new gas tank. We caught up on our reading and used the harbor wi-fi to learn the latest about the weird political situations in the United States. I made a bus trip (in the rain) up to Kalmar’s Ikea to replace a couple of aging pillows. You may or may not be surprised to know that the Ikea in Kalmar is about the same size as the one in Portland. It was absolutely crammed with people escaping the rain to shop for household furnishings and/or eat at the reasonably priced Ikea restaurant.
Chip & Kit arrived in the rain (the train station was about 500 yards from where we had docked the boat), and after they dried off and settled in, we decided to visit the Cathedral in the old City and a couple of interesting-sounding museums. By far the hit of the day was the Kalmar Län Museum. They have an exhibit of artifacts from a 1676 ship which exploded mid-naval battle. Because of the unique conditions in the Baltic (low salinity) and the mud into which the wreck settled, there was very little deterioration. The exhibit included many articles of daily living including leather shoes, complete uniforms, wood carvings, brass navigation instruments that looked to have been manufactured yesterday, all the parts to a nice violin in its case, hundreds of gold and silver coins, and sets of bottles – both pewter and glass – in fitted boxes, some of which had been opened by the museum conservators and found to still contain liquor with 40% alcohol.
After gawking at these incredible exhibits, we found ourselves on the fourth floor where there was a nice restaurant, featuring a salad bar with pickled herring and lingonberry jam. (What more could a person want?) (That was Chip’s favorite – he’s a Swedish herring fan). I chose the meatballs and pasta dish, not realizing that no sauce was included. The waiter offered me ketchup instead. Hmmm… I remember when one of our exchange students, Henrik Olsson, came to live with us, he asked whether we had ketchup to use on pasta that already had quite a bit of tomato sauce. I guess he’s not the only Swede with a taste for ketchup.
The next morning we planned to sail to Borgholm, on the island of Öland. I was awake at 6 am, as was Chip. Our respective spouses were still asleep, so we decided to walk into Kalmar’s Old City in search of coffee. There were certainly plenty of trendy coffee shops we had seen a couple of days previously on our walk through the City. But it turns out that at 6:30 am on a Sunday, nothing at all was open. Coffee shops had signs that they were opening at 11 am or later. We decided that a hotel might have coffee for their guests at all hours. So we made our way to the Stad Hotel on the City’s central square. The clerk said they did indeed have coffee, and he said it was freshly brewed. He offered us a couple of to-go cups “on the house”. We accepted the coffee and took our first sips. Walking out the door we agreed that it was certifiably the worst coffee either of us has ever tasted. Imagine McDonald’s coffee after it has sat on a burner all night. We walked far enough to be out of view of the hotel’s windows, and poured both cups down a street drain. Back at the boat, Craig and Kit were awake, so we ground beans and made good coffee for all before our morning departure to Borgholm in sunshine and light winds.
At Borgholm, we found that no side-ties were available, so we actually managed to tie from the bow to a buoy and from the stern to a floating dock. We hadn’t seen this particular docking arrangement before, but it seemed to be, and was, workable for us on this particular day. Much depends upon the height of the dock and the direction of the wind. As the evening progressed, a lot of wind came up, but we found that we bounced around less with this docking arrangement than we had with a side tie in Kalmar.
One of our cruising guides, by an irreverant Englishman named Martin Edge, describes Borgholm as “The Home World of the Hive,” a reference to the Borg Collective, featured in Star Trek Next Generation. But that description is pretty far-off from what we found in Borgholm. It’s a pleasant town with a sea-resort feel. The Swedish Royal Family has their summer palace nearby, and the residential parts of the town are filled with posh Victorian Swedish houses. (It turns out that the English Queen Victoria had quite a presence here, and she was the one who actually instigated the building of what is now the Swedish Royal Palace.)
We visited Borgholm Castle the next day – it’s mostly a huge ruin, but parts have been restored with interesting historical exhibits. The Swedish Royal family abandoned it when the wood roofs and other wooden parts burned in the nineteenth century. Parts of the castle have been restored, but most of the new work going on seems to have to do with turning it into a “historically sensitive” rock concert venue. Speaking of rock concerts, on our way back to the boat that evening, we learned that the hotel at the head of the docks was having an “after beach” party that evening. The idea was, evidently, that you (hypothetical, young, with-it vacationer) spent all day on the beach and now it was time to PARTY! The weather in the afternoon and evening was awful enough that no one was on the beach, but that didn’t stop anyone from coming to the party. The thumpa-thumpa of rock music during the evening was fortunately mostly drowned out by slapping waves and clanking halyards.
The next morning it was still quite windy, but sunny. We had decided to rent a car and drive around the island. When we first went into the hotel where we were to rent, the electricity was out (apparently on the entire island) so getting signed up was a somewhat tedious process. After the power finally came on, we got underway. The guide book told us that there were over 400 Dutch-style windmills on Öland, so our first stop was at the largest of them. We were able to climb up to the sixth floor of eight, seeing grinding stones, complicated sets of gears, chutes, steep ladders, sail parts, and ultimately a deck with a 360 degree view of the Öland countryside. Unfortunately neither this, nor any of the other dozens of windmills we saw were operational, although there were plenty of modern wind turbines generating electricity for the island.
We stopped at Kaffeestugan in the little town of Böga and had our morning dose of fika (the Swedish coffee-and-pastry occasion which I described in my previous blog entry). Wonderful coffee and spectacularly delicious (and expensive) pastries. Then we drove on further north, looked at a couple of harbors, a lighthouse, more windmills and beautiful scenery. We stopped at a nature reserve to have a look around and found that we had parked on top of a bed of wild strawberries. They have an intense strawberry flavor and were perfectly ripe.
We visited a medieval church, which unfortunately only opens Wednesday through Sunday (we were there on a Monday). We looked at ancient gravestones, where the writing was completely eliminated by centuries of weather. We looked through the windows, but there wasn’t much to be seen. I was interested in this church because it reportedly had a Viking rune stone inside, but there was no joy to be had.
Next we entered a forest preserve where they reportedly had 1000-year old oaks. It turns out that almost all of the Öland oaks had been cut down in past centuries for ship-building. Forests have been replanted, but not many of them contain oaks. We did find some old oaks, as well as beech trees and a beautiful untouched forest floor. Right next to the forest preserve was a huge camping operation, primarily for folks with campers or trailers. There were swimming pools, Segway rentals, kayaks, beaches and who knows what else. Many of the campers had huge zip-on canvas living rooms larger than the camper itself. Obviously, everyone is prepared for rain.
When we got back to Borgholm, we saw a beautiful sunset and prepared to sail to Oskarshamn the next morning. The winds were quiet, so the sounds of another thumpa-thumpa concert or nightclub clearly reached us across the water. Never mind, we slept well that night after our fabulous day of exploration.
When we reached Oskarshamn, we were told that we could stay only one day because they have reservations for boats coming in for the upcoming rock festival (biggest festival of the year). Obviously we’re following the wrong calendar! In fact there was a stage going up about 30 feet from where we docked, and fencing was being erected to separate the boaters from the concertgoers. The harbormaster has assured us that it will be very loud here. We’ve managed to wangle an additional day’s moorage, and the rock concert won’t start until the day after we leave. We walked up into town, got groceries, got most excellent pastries from Nilsson’s Conditeri, and have managed to wash our dirty clothes in the marina’s free machines. Kit is making us a most-excellent lamb stew for dinner, and we’re feeling very relaxed.
I hope this blog post finds you all in a pleasant place and excellent spirits like we are.